June 20, 1988 12:00 PM


Somewhere in the 2½ years since she last released an album, Sade has lost her edge. Whereas her first two albums, Diamond Life and Promise, were full of seductive insinuation, a sly, cool-jazz tone and at least the illusion of spontaneous creation, this one is full only of false starts. Sade’s saxophonist-composer-collaborator, Stuart Matthewman, seems to have been relegated to mop-up duties, playing only on two tracks; Sade sings on one of them and then just briefly. The substance-and-spice relationship that her voice and his horn had developed is just no longer there, and it’s replaced only by a series of rhythmic grooves that don’t lead to anything. Her songs are nothing to write back to Nigeria about, reflecting none of the intelligence of, say, her earlier Jezebel or Smooth Operator. Love Is Stronger than Pride, for example, is little more than a series of hardly varied repetitions of the title. I Never Thought I’d See the Day opens with a riff that seems, finally, to be lifting Sade out of the rut she is in for most of this album. The track degenerates, however. Sade sings four or five notes; the bass plunks four or five notes. Not much else happens. In fact, if there is an International Society for the Promotion of Electric Bass Playing, it ought to give this album a lifetime achievement award, highlighting, as it does, the bass of Paul Denman. He’s a resourceful musician, but he’s called on in this case to impersonate a whole band and to make up for a whole album of mediocre arrangements. Siempre Hay Esperanza, the instrumental in which Matthewman does some melodic exploration against the piano of Andrew Hale, generates a Latin jazz lilt and passion, but then Sade is nowhere to be heard. It may explain something that she all but dropped out of sight two years ago, after walking offstage during a concert and saying she was suffering from mental exhaustion. Rarely does a major performer release an album that has as many dreary gaps in it as this one does. (Epic)

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